Whether you've got a balcony, a small patch of grass or a large garden you could be setting up a vital refuge for wildlife! Here are some tips from us on gardening for wildlife to help get you started or to expand on what you're already doing.
Gardening for wildlife
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, whatever its size, and wherever it is, you’re also lucky enough to have the potential for your very own nature reserve.
Gardens can provide a vital refuge for all sorts of wildlife looking for places to feed, rest and raise a family. Often, it doesn’t actually take that much effort to make nature feel at home either. Even in the most built-up areas of a city, wildlife can thrive in green spaces.
Putting up nestboxes and feeding the birds is a great place to start, but you can also install boxes for bees, or homes for butterflies and ladybirds, numbers of which have been dropping in Scotland. Flowers rich in pollen and nectar are another great way to encourage a visit from these fluttering, buzzing species - with some growing well in pots or even in the shade! The best types for insects have blooms made up of many very small flowers, like borage or sunflowers.
Before you grow anything though, it’s a good idea to start by thinking about your soil. With a few exceptions, most garden plants are going to do best in nutritious soil with lots of organic matter. You’re far better adding things like peat-free compost and well-rotted manure than pouring on fertilisers. Healthy soil is better for nature too, and more resilient to both droughts and heavy rainfall.
Go potty for herbs!
If you only have a balcony or a little paved area outside your backdoor, you can still grow herbs in pots. Many, such as thyme and rosemary, produce beautiful flowers that are as good for pollinating insects as they are for your culinary creations!
Let nature take its course
Admit it, you’re looking for an excuse not to mow the lawn aren’t you? Well now you have one! Longer grass is better for wildlife, creating a great environment that’s perfect for all sorts of creatures. It doesn’t actually need to look messy either - you could mow paths or even shapes into the grass and still bring benefits.
Don’t use pesticides!
It can be really frustrating to get an infestation of something creepy and crawly on your favourite flower or vegetable. But many of the chemicals you can buy to get rid of them are harmful to the environment. It’s much better for your garden in the long term, if you can say nay to the spray, and try to get nature to do the job for you. Most bugs have natural predators, whether they have feathers, spikes or spots. So if you can encourage blue tits, hedgehogs and ladybirds into your garden, then you’ll probably have fewer caterpillars, slugs and aphids to worry about.
Getting kids involved
With a little encouragement, most children will love the opportunity to go outdoors and get muddy. Try starting them off by gardening together and setting them up with their own (child-safe!) tools; letting them grow simple vegetables, like salad leaves and peas; or plant their own flowers such as sunflowers and nasturtiums. Or why not introduce them to the wonders of worms? You can make a temporary ‘wormery’ with a plastic bottle cut in half, and layered with soil, sand and waste vegetables - just add worms!
For more information about giving nature a home where you live visit: www.rspb.org.uk/homes
Kirsty Potter from RSPB Scotland, has this update from the lucky winners of our competition with Walkers Shortbread. Justin and Susan went on a spectacular guided safari at our Abernethy reserve and shared the stories of the day with us.
A winning visit to Abernethy
On Saturday 11 July our Walkers Shortbread competition winners visited our beautiful Abernethy reserve to take up their prize.
For a period at the end of 2014, packets of Walkers Shortbread bore a special RSPB sticker featuring a red squirrel, one of the threatened species found at Abernethy, as well as details of a special competition. Devoted Walkers Shortbread buyers were asked to enter the competition on the RSPB website to be in with the chance of winning a VIP wildlife safari at Abernethy and a weekend stay at The Boat Hotel in Boat of Garten.
Justin and Susan, from Edinburgh, were the lucky winners of the prize and were delighted to have the chance to travel to the reserve in the heart of the Cairngorms to see some fantastic wildlife, led by the extremely knowledgeable and charismatic Desmond Dugan, Abernethy’s Site Manager.
Desmond knows the reserve like the back of his hand, having lived and worked there for over 30 years. He recommended an early start that morning so that Justin and Susan had the best chance of seeing as many of the 4,500 species that live on the reserve as possible and so picked them up from the hotel at 5am. Justin commented: ‘Getting up at 4.30am on a weekend has never been so easy!’
Luckily, the weather was good and the early start certainly paid off. Justin and Susan were able to see both red and roe deer, a badger, red squirrels, red and black grouse, a kestrel, merlin and buzzard, and red-throated divers amongst many other species. To find out more about some of the incredible wildlife that calls Abernethy home, have a look at the star species section on our Abernethy page.
After the early start, Desmond dropped Justin and Susan back at the hotel for breakfast and, after a quick pit stop to refuel, the group headed back out to see more of the reserve, rounded off with a picnic lunch in a high up spot overlooking the stunning landscape of the reserve.
Justin summed up their prize, saying: 'We had an amazing time at Abernethy. It was great to be shown around by Desmond who was so knowledgeable and passionate about this beautiful part of the world.'
RSPB Scotland is very grateful to Walkers Shortbread for their support in running this competition. We are now in our second year working with Walkers and are very proud to be in partnership with such a well-known and well-loved Scottish family business.
Walkers Shortbread supports our vision of expanding Abernethy forest up to its natural tree-line. This is a long-term project which may take up to 200 years to complete but it will create a wooded landscape at Abernethy, effectively doubling the size of the existing forest habitat, mainly through the natural processes of regeneration.
The company has helped to fund an on-site tree nursery that is already allowing us to plant seedlings, grown from seed collected on the reserve, and grow them on to saplings. Over the next few years up to 100,000 young trees will be planted to enrich the pine regeneration and to create a more diverse future woodland.
This will be of benefit to all of the fantastic creatures that Justin and Susan were lucky enough to spot on the wildlife safari amongst many others, and will ensure that generations to come will have the same opportunity to enjoy the area.
We can’t quite believe it’s August already. It feels like we’ve only just finished talking about Scotland’s fantastic summer visitors and now they’re up and leaving again! But don’t worry; there is still plenty to see this month. Here are some tips and facts from us.
What to see in Scotland this month VIII
August is one month of the year that brings a lot of change with it in Scotland. And I’m definitely not talking about the weather here, especially because no-one seems to know what’s going on with it this summer. I’m thinking about our wildlife.
Over the last few months we’ve been enjoying the company of migrant bird species that venture to our shores for summer, but the time has come for them to start leaving for warmer climes. This happens in dribs and drabs at first, but before we know it they’ll all have gone.
Whimbrels leave us from August onward and you might be lucky enough to see them stocking up on crabs and molluscs along the coast before departing. As do some more familiar birds like blackcaps, swifts, and house martins. Look out for clusters of swallows on telephone wires too.
Ospreys that come to Scotland in summer spend the winter in West Africa – a migration of around 3,500 miles. You’ve still got time to see them as they generally won’t leave for a couple of weeks yet; check out EJ and Odin at Loch Garten!
The female bird leaves first and the male stays behind to continue providing fish to their young if they have them. He will depart when the last chick has set off on migration (very attentive parenting there if you ask me). When chicks reach Africa they’ll often stay there for the first few years of their life and will return to Scotland when they’ve reached breeding age.
Another species which will be vacating our shores around now is the razorbill. They tend to leave their breeding cliffs towards the end of the summer for the sea. In this case it’s the male which leaves first, with the young leaving alongside him, while the female continues to visit the breeding site for up to several weeks before heading off too. The north and north-east of Scotland are among the best places to see seabirds, with the peak time being summer.
Razorbills are compact, sturdy creatures that belong to the auk family, are black and white in colour, and have a thick, blunt bill. In August and September, these birds go through a post-breeding moult and actually become flightless for a period.
But it’s not just birds you should be excited about this month, if you fancy a bit of an adventure with the kids, grab a net and bucket and head for the coast. Exploring rockpools is a fantastically fun activity that everyone can get involved with. Keep an eye out for barnacles, crabs, anemones, and maybe even a starfish!
Did you know that starfish can actually allow their own arms to drop off? It means they can escape if predators grab hold of them. They’re also able to regenerate the lost limb which is pretty amazing.
We’ve also heard there are good numbers of basking sharks turning up around the west coast of Scotland this month. So if you’re heading out to the Isle of Coll or Tiree anytime soon we’d definitely recommend checking out these giant beauties. If you’re a bit further afield and won’t get to see them in person, take a look at this drone footage of them that went on the Press and Journal website last week – it’s incredible.
Happy wildlife watching everyone! We’ll be back with a new blog in September.